Jasper Marsalis Stadium, detail, 2020
Photo : Aaron Van Dyke, courtesy of the artist & Midway Contemporary Art

The Social Constellation of the Stadium

Michael DiRisio
Jasper Marsalis’s Stadium (2020) is ever waiting. This immersive installation is a wide, shallow crater, encircled by powerful stadium lighting that dominates any documentation captured at night. It is a circular pit without centre or subject, suited for a sport that seems familiar yet unknown. Visitors remark on a sense of spectacle that is disrupted, as if left with the impression that it is a “suspended stage” with an “unsettling emptiness.”1 1 - Alexandra Nicome, “The Convex (No Place Is or Ever Was Empty): On Black construction and Jasper Marsalis’s Stadium,” Mn Artists, January 23, 2021, accessible online. After a snowfall, paths are cut by walking to and from the work. Some visitors circle the perimeter and others cut through, gathering within the crater’s depression. For those, like myself, who are unable to visit in person, the documentation, much of which is captured by drones, seems to amplify the eerie emptiness, reinforced by the mediation of the illuminated screen. For those viewing the work from a distance, the wait is without end.

Such suspension and mediation is also true of the experience of sport today, and increasingly so amidst waves of lockdown. The appeal for me was never simply the game itself, but the chaos of the crowd, the nostalgic soundscape of the audience, and the architecture that is so purposefully built. Emptied of these crowds, the stadium becomes a strange, hollow structure. Here I will reflect on ways in which the stadium is represented in contemporary art as a space that houses not the imagined communities that it is sometimes said to, but a fractured and fragmented crowd, a sort of social constellation that belies the myth of united spectatorship. Most communities are in a very real sense imagined, and this is not, as political scientist Benedict Anderson argues, a marker of inauthenticity: “Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined.”2 2 - Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 2006), 6. It is the role of narratives, which construct personal and collective identities, and “meaning-creating experiences3 3 - Anderson, Imagined Communities, 204-05, 53.” that are key here, and although Anderson is considering the imagined community of the nation-state, the role of narratives and the creation of meaning are likewise instructive in considering the stadium’s imagined communities.

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This article also appears in the issue 103 - Sportification
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